Poverty and Development Division
last updated : 4 May 2001
Regional Position of Least Developed Countries of Asia and the Pacific for the Third United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries
Of the 48 least developed countries, 13 are located in the Asia and Pacific region. These least developed countries account for over 37 per cent of population and 46 per cent of the GNP of all least developed countries. These countries are quite diverse and varied in terms of population and economic size, natural resources, institutional capacity as well as geography.
Afghanistan, Bhutan, Lao People's Democratic Republic and Nepal are landlocked while Kiribati, Maldives, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are island developing countries. As economies in transition, Cambodia and Lao People's Democratic Republic are undertaking structural changes as they continue to implement market-oriented reforms. Some of the least developed countries, as in the case of Bangladesh, are relatively large and densely populated, while others, like those in the Pacific, are small, remote and extremely vulnerable.
The Paris Declaration and the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the 1990s emanated a decade ago from the Second United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries. During this period, the economic and social performance of the least developed countries of the region has varied significantly. The average annual growth rates of their GDP through the 1990s range from around 2 per cent in some of the Pacific island countries to over 7 per cent in the Maldives. Average life expectancy at birth also varies considerably from 50 in Bhutan to 68 in Vanuatu. During the past decade, Cambodia and Solomon Islands joined this list of least developed countries in 1991, while the status of Maldives and Vanuatu underwent periodic reviews. Since the region covers nearly half of the globe, these countries, located in South Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific region, form a very diverse group of countries and their recent experiences have correspondingly varied significantly.
As mandated in the Programme of Action, the Commission established the Special Body on Least Developed and Landlocked Developing Countries, which meets once in every two years, to review economic and social developments in the least developed countries at the regional-level. Over the decade, the Special Body conducted a mid-term review of the Paris Declaration and the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the 1990s as well as regional reviews on institutional capacity, development assistance, transport and trade in least developed countries of Asia and the Pacific. During the fifty-fourth session of the Commission, it was decided that the fifth session of the Special Body would conduct a regional review of the implementation of the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the 1990s and formulate recommendations to address the challenges facing these countries in preparation to the Third United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries.
In line with this decision, the secretariat prepared three subregional studies which identified social issues, infrastructure, trade and finance for development as primary issues affecting least developed countries of the region. To formulate tangible recommendations to address these issues, the secretariat conducted a regional high-level preparatory meeting on the Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries for the 1990s hosted by the Government of Bangladesh in Dhaka in November last year in collaboration with UNCTAD and UNDP. During this meeting, participants from least developed countries and their development partners suggested a number of practical measures which could be undertaken both by least developed countries themselves and by the international community to address these issues. The substantive conclusions and recommendations from the regional high-level meeting were then considered for endorsement by the Special Body on Least Developed Countries at its fifth session in February this year.
While least developed countries of the region as a whole have made significant progress in several economic and social fronts during the past decade, such progress has been uneven. Moreover, the progress achieved so far has rested on the fragile foundation of a narrow economic base, an undiversified export structure and a high degree of vulnerability to external shocks. Universal access to basic education and health, and equal opportunities, are prerequisites for fostering development. Improved infrastructure lowers the cost of production of goods and services, facilitates the flow of information and improves access to social services. Further, to complement the trade liberalization and export promotion initiatives of least developed countries, international support is needed for export diversification, the introduction of technology and strengthened supply capacity. Finally, financing for development from official and private sources is essential in order to fill the gaps between investment needs and domestic savings, government expenditure and revenue, and import requirements and export receipts.
The fifty-seventh session of the Commission held in Bangkok in April 2001 noted with concern that the development goals stipulated in the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the 1990s remained largely unmet. The Commission, therefore, recommended that the new Programme of Action from this Conference should address these issues with a fresh approach and firm understanding in order to improve economic and social conditions in the least developed countries.
The recommendations, as endorsed by the Special Body, comprise the regional position of the least developed countries of Asia and the Pacific for the Third United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries. Since some of the recommendations contained in our regional position are applicable to the least developed countries in other regions as well, these recommendations could be strengthened and incorporated into the Programme of Action of the Third United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries.